Penn State Looks For First Big Ten Win Against Northwestern
After struggling to score against what some call the best team in the Big Ten conference, Penn State needs to do the one thing they did best in non-conference play: respond to a loss.
In non-conference play the Nittany Lions posted a win after each of their four losses, never having a multi-game losing streak. After two games in conference play they are on a two game skid and look to beat a Northwestern team that is on the same streak of their own.
Penn State has topped Northwestern 10 of the last 13 matchups, however Northwestern beat Penn State a year ago 67-66 in the Bryce Jordan Center.
For Penn State it starts with scoring, a category that plagued them in both of their Big Ten losses in 2013 as they posted just 51 points against Wisconsin and Indiana.
“Every game you play shooting is very important,” said head coach Patrick Chambers. “No matter what scheme I come up with, we have to shoot the basketball and we have to make shots. If you don’t make shots you will never be in any games.”
Junior guard Jermaine Marshall and sophomore guard D.J. Newbill have led Penn State in the scoring category throughout the season, but it has been the inconsistencies as an offensive unit that hurt them, especially against Indiana.
Against Northwestern on Thursday, Marshall and Newbill will need to get hot early, but it is equally important for another Nittany Lion to step up along side their junior leaders in the scoring category.
In Penn State’s four game winning streak to end the non-conference season, either Marshall or Newbill had 15 points or more and the other had at least 10 points in each game except one. In those same games, at least one other Penn State scorer had 10 or more points.
This balanced scoring attack started to disappear against Wisconsin and then really declined on Monday against Indiana. Ross Travis led all Penn State scorers with 14, but Marshall scored 11 and Newbill had eight as Penn State had just two scorers in double figures.
If that stat line is similar against a Northwestern team eager for their first Big Ten win, the Nittany Lions don’t have favorable odds to get the win. In order to start hot against the Wildcats who faced two top ten teams to start the conference season (No. 2 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota), Chambers wants his team to start down low in the post.
“We gotta get the rebound, be strong, go up into somebody’s chest and finish and not worry about the contact,” said Chambers. “That gets you to the foul line. I want to get to the basket, I want to get to the foul line, I want to space it out and spread it out and get more guys involved.”
Defensively, Penn State must find a way to limit Northwestern from the perimeter and not allow a guy like freshman guard Tre Demps get hot from beyond the arc. Northwestern is top 30 in the country with 3-point shots made with an 8.3 average and Demps has shot 13-for-20 in the last six games.
Head coach Bill Carmody is glad to have his leading scorer Reggie Hearn back for his second game since an injury sidelined him for two games including their conference opener against Michigan. The senior guard tallied just 11 against Minnesota in his first game back and his scoring will be pivotal for the Wildcats on Thursday.
If Hearn can get hot it will force Penn State to devote extra attention to him and in turn allow Demps and forward Jared Swopshire to get going as well.
Both Chambers and Carmody are desperate for their first Big Ten win and there is no saying which team needs the win more than the other, but all the focus should be on each team’s leading scorers and how they bounce back after early Big Ten struggles.
Mike Esse is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and is a ComRadio sports director. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com.